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Mayor strikes out on pledge to name Memorial for Mays

April 13, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Mayor William M. Breichner said he believes race was a factor in the public dissent that has thwarted efforts to rename a city street after baseball great Willie Mays.

"I think part of it was because of his race," Breichner said. "I just feel bad about that. ... I didn't really think there was going to be all this turmoil over it or we wouldn't have went that far" in pushing for the change.

Mays first visited Hagerstown in 1950 to play with a minor league team and was forced to sleep in a separate hotel from his white teammates.

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Mays hadn't returned until a ceremonial visit to the city last August, in which Breichner publicly apologized to Mays for the treatment he received, and Mays accepted.

Breichner also made a personal pledge to Mays to name a city street after him. Breichner said he made the gesture to Mays to try to encourage him to continue to visit the city.

Memorial Boulevard, which runs past Municipal Stadium, took on temporary signs bearing the street name, "Willie Mays Way."

The City Council took up the proposal to make the name change permanent twice, both times deferring on a decision.

War veterans who live in the city spoke against the measure during a meeting last month, saying the road name was to memorialize fallen fighters, although there is conflicting evidence about whether that is true.

On Tuesday, council members said they would not rename Memorial Boulevard after Mays.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said during the meeting that small groups can have great power when it comes to issues in a city the size of Hagerstown.

"All they gotta do is contact us and tell us they don't like the idea, and their power becomes overwhelming," Metzner said.

After the meeting, Breichner said there are other ways to honor Mays, including putting Mays' name on Municipal Stadium or naming the field after him. Other suggestions have included naming other streets after Mays.

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